Tips on Helping Students with FAFSA, Scholarships, and Applications

As a high school counselor, you’re likely the first person that students will go to for advice about applying for financial aid. Though you likely have a general idea of how to help most students, it can be difficult to keep track of all of the various scholarships and financial aid options that are out there.

This being the case, it can help to have some guidance to refer to about how to help your students. Here are some tips on helping students with FAFSA, scholarships, and applications.

Explaining FAFSA to Your Students

While as a high school counselor you’re likely very familiar with FAFSA, the majority of high school students are not. Making sure they’re aware of what FAFSA is and how it will affect them can help give them a deeper understanding of the type of financial aid that they’re applying for.

The first thing to cover when explaining FAFSA to high school students is the type of aid that is offered. These include:

  • Grants: Grants are portions of money awarded to students that aren’t required to be paid back. In this way they are similar to scholarships. Where they differ from scholarships is the basis on which they’re awarded. While scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic achievement, grants are awarded on the basis of financial need.
  • Subsidized loans: Subsidized loans are loans that the government will help cover the cost of as it pertains to interest. For subsidized student loans, this typically means that no interest will accrue for the duration of their academic career and around six months after graduating.
  • Unsubsidized loans: Unsubsidized loans are loans which start accruing interest the moment that they are taken out. As such, it will start accruing interest before a student graduates and can result in a greater amount of debt.
  • Work-study: work-study is a way that FAFSA helps students earn more money by working on campus. The government provides funds to help pay working students for these jobs.

By laying out in plain terms the differences between scholarships, grants, subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, and work-study eligibility, your students will have a deeper grasp of the types of financial aid that they are applying for through FAFSA, along with which ones are ideal for their unique situation.

Helping Different Students Find Unique Scholarships and Grants

There’s no doubt that you’re aware of the plethora of scholarships and grants available out there for different students. However, it can be difficult to keep track of each and every particular one. As such, it can be helpful to create your own list of different types of scholarships available for different students.

Being aware of the scholarships available for students of color can help you provide many students with access to financial aid resources. Some of the most notable scholarships for people of color to be aware of include:

  • The Actuarial Diversity Scholarship: This scholarship is geared towards students of color who intend on pursuing an education relating to risk management and insurance.
  • The American Chemicals Society Scholars Program: This scholarship provides some students of color with a 3.0 GPA or higher with awards to put towards the study of chemistry.
  • The Blacks at Microsoft Program: This scholarship targets black students who demonstrate higher GPAs and financial need that are pursuing an education in fields such as engineering and computer science.
  • The Ron Brown Scholar Program: This $40,000 scholarship provides both financial support and mentorship to black students who are in financial need and have displayed academic excellence and an interest in participating in community service.

While these are far from all of the scholarships available for people of color, this list can be an easy starting point when providing students of color with resources. For students of Hispanic origin, there are many amazing scholarship opportunities as well. Some notable scholarships for Hispanics include:

  • The Hispanic Scholarship Fund
  • ALCOA Fund Scholarship
  • Latino Community Credit Union Scholarship
  • ExxonMobil Engineering Scholarship

Having some lists of scholarships for different types of students will make it easier for you to refer students to different scholarships based on their individual circumstances. While these lists should not be the end all be all solution, they’re a great way to streamline processes and help more students in a timely fashion.

Walking Students Through Application Processes

Given the large number of students coming to see you every single day, there’s no way that you’ll be able to sit with each and every one and walk them through every application process. As such, it can be helpful to get creative and find ways to help educate students about how to apply for different types of financial aid.

For more common financial aid resources, such as FAFSA, it can be helpful to create a detailed instruction sheet that you can give to students. Another helpful way to do this is by creating a video in which you show the step-by-step process of applying. Having these resources available can help ensure that the students you speak to will be able to successfully apply for FAFSA and other scholarships.

While the instruction sheet and video work great for more popular scholarships, you won’t be able to do this for each and every scholarship available out there. However, you can have a general preparedness sheet to offer to students to make applying less daunting. The sheet can include steps such as:

  • Have your personal information ready to be entered into an application
  • Be prepared to write a letter and be mindful of specific rules and specifications for each scholarship you apply to
  • Contact the specific organization of the scholarship or grant you’re applying to if you feel confused

By providing a cheat-sheet to students, you’ll ensure that they’re not overwhelmed by the process of applying for financial aid. In addition, these sheets can allow parents who have never been through the process the chance to help their children as well.

Helping Students Successfully Get Financial Aid As a counselor, you want to see as many students as possible thrive and find success. For many, that means having to secure financial aid to help them be able to attend university. By being clear with your students, having prepared lists of financial aid resources, and creating guides for applications, you can greatly increase your students’ chances of successfully securing financial aid and finding success in life.